New York City may have just dodged the full fury of the "Storm of the Century" (sorry, Boston), but if you live in the northern part of the country you know that any such reprieve is always temporary. Another "snowmageddon" will come barreling down at your city at some point in the future.

Besides being an opportunity for local news stations to come up with creative names for one more storm, it turns out these blizzards may have another upside, however. According to new research out of Harvard and Wharton, terrible weather actually tends to lead to higher productivity. So you may be frozen, grumpy, and stuck indoors, but at least be comforted that you'll also probably get more work done.

Wait, what?

In fact, you'll probably get more work done because you're frozen, grumpy and stuck indoors. "When you are sitting in your office and staring out at an 80-degree day, [you might think,] 'I'd really like to be out in that,'" study co-author Bradley Staats told Knowledge@Wharton. "When it's dumping rain or [you're] in a blizzard, you might say, 'What the heck? Why not focus on the work that is here in front of me?'"

It's an interesting and intuitive hypothesis, which Staats and his collaborators verified with three studies, one looking at the productivity of Japanese bank workers on rainy days, another examining how the weather affected the work of Harvard students, and the third, an online survey of workers. Lo and behold, rain and snow were linked with getting stuff done.

Making use of this silver lining

Staats suggests that leaders and workers can take advantage of the focusing effects of bad weather through "task allocation." In other words, when the view out of the window provides no distractions for you and your team, that might be a good time to slog through those boring tasks you've been putting off. He likens this approach to bringing grunt work onto a plane: "If I limit what I bring on the airplane, then I have no choice but to do the work that's in front of me."

Of course, if you're a mailman (or woman), forest ranger, or anyone else who has to brave the elements for work, this research doesn't apply. But for knowledge workers who only need a phone and computer to get stuff done, Staats and his team offer a helpful dose of winter optimism--next time the weatherman announces bad news, take heart and gather your most dreaded to-do list items. The next superstorm could mean your next bout of superproductivity.

Do you find you get more or less done when the weather outside is terrible?

Published on: Feb 2, 2015
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